When Tammy Long-Willard was growing up in Western New York in the 1980s, she already knew she wanted to be a nurse.
“My mother was one of those caring, nurturing people,” she says. “My grandpa lived with us for many years, and we would also take care of many of the elderly in the neighborhood. Becoming a nurse has been a dream of mine since I was a young girl.”
She officially began her nursing journey while she was in high school, attending BOCES for nursing services in addition to her regular classes. Once she graduated, she spent some time working as a nursing aide.
At that point, though, she put her dreams on hold.
“When I graduated from high school,” Tammy says, “I was only 17 years old. I didn’t feel like I was mature enough to take on all of the responsibilities of becoming a nurse.”
Tammy then took a temporary career change, accepted a job offer for American Airlines and moved across the country.
Coming home: Rediscovering Buffalo and nursing
When she was in her early 20s, Tammy was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma of the cervix, a sub-type of cervical cancer.
“I decided to move back home for treatment and to be closer to family and friends,” she says. “I recovered, and after that whole experience, I decided to get back into nursing.”
After doing a little research, Tammy decided that she wanted to attend Trocaire.
“Trocaire had the reputation of small classes and one-on-one attention,” she says. “I ended up getting so close to my classmates. We would have study groups before every exam and bonded through our clinicals. My time there was great and so memorable.”
Tammy also made great connections with her instructors, who nominated her for the New York State Nursing Distinction Award, which she won in 1996 — the same year she graduated with her associate degree in nursing.
“I learned both clinical skills and professionalism at Trocaire,” she says. “Not only did I feel prepared for my boards, but I was ready to dedicate myself to a lifetime of nursing.”
Lessons of an entry-level RN
After graduating, Tammy immediately accepted a job working at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
“At the time, it was very hard for new nurses to be hired as a registered nurse without experience in a hospital,” she says. “I heard that Strong Memorial was hiring entry level nurses and that a lot of them were commuting from Buffalo to Rochester, so I applied!”
In her first position as an RN, she learned the importance of asking questions.
“If there’s something you haven’t done, or are not sure how to do, ask for help or guidance,” Tammy says. “Don’t just go ahead and do it yourself! Make sure you are confident in your work, because it impacts other people.”
After spending some time at the hospital on the Congestive Heart Failure/Heart Transplant Unit, she became a cardiac case manager for Catholic Health System and worked as a home care cardiac nurse.
Hospice Buffalo: Helping others find peace in end of life
In Tammy’s current role, she works as a case manager for Hospice Buffalo.
“Working for Hospice is definitely the most rewarding job I’ve had,” she says. “I feel honored when a person or family allows me to be part of their life. Hospice is a wonderful organization that provides medical care and physical, emotional and spiritual support to patients, and families of a loved one facing life limiting illnesses with a prognosis of less than six months. We care for them in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home settings and our Hospice Inpatient Units.”
Tammy works with her experienced interdisciplinary team of doctors, facility staff and Hospice aides to develop care that meets the patient and family’s needs and wishes. She also educates the patient, family and staff on Hospice and palliative care, making sure they are comfortable and receiving support through end of life.
“I am passionate about my job,” Tammy says. “It is important that patients and their families are prepared for end of life, which is why early referrals are so important.”
In addition to her work, she also has had nursing students shadow her to learn more about the job. In her spare time, she enjoys antiquing, camping, gardening, and spending time with friends and family.
“I love what I’m doing, and it keeps me going,” Tammy says. “Remember that hard work pays off. I always knew that if I put my mind and soul to studying throughout college that it would pay off. It did, and then some. I would highly recommend nursing as a career. It has provided me job security, flexibility and the satisfaction of helping people.”